According to Cancer Research UK the incidents of cancer in women have risen by 35 % since the late 1970’s and a staggering 50% of all people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
These are the terrifying statistics that are going through my head as I make my way to the hospital waiting room for the breast clinic. I have recently found a new lump and have been referred by my GP to undergo further investigations. Up until a few days ago I had been absolutely fine about it, no worries. Hakuna Matata and all that! I was confident that all will be well, after all I’ve been here before, 5 years ago, and the last time I was fine…
But more recently the “what ifs” have started to invade my thoughts. What if this time I’m not so lucky? I’m five years older now, I’ve had two more children. What if they find something terrible? What if they were wrong last time and now it’s too late? What if I am now part of those statistics?
Over the past few days I have to confess I have indulged some of those “what ifs”. I know that well-meaning people often say things like “You shouldn’t worry about it, it might never happen”, but I think that considering the “what ifs” in some ways helps me to cope. Thinking of the worst case scenario is my natural go-to reaction and I do this with pretty much every single aspect of my life. That way whatever happens is never quite as bad as I originally thought! (So far).
Let me give you an example: Right now I am watching my baby climbing on the sofa. (He is now one year old and he climbs like a mountain goat!) My brain is screaming at me “WHAT IF HE FALLS? If he falls he might hit his head, his head will start bleeding. What if he goes unconscious and I have to phone an ambulance? What if the ambulance doesn’t get here in time…? You get the idea.
In actual fact my baby has now climbed down, crawled across the floor and is playing with his toys next to the fire guard! Oh wait a minute, did I say fire? “FIRE! FIRE!” here we go with the ”what ifs” again!
Needless to say I have been to some truly dark and desperately sad places in my mind in the run up to this appointment. I have imagined breaking the news to my children, looking at their tiny faces and saying “Mummy isn’t very well at the moment.” I’ve imagined having to say goodbye to each of them. I’ve looked at a future which I am not a part of and watched them grow up with their dad.
In my mind I have undergone treatments and tests and lost my hair and for the first time today I have looked in the mirror and thought “If this is my worst case scenario I will fight it to the end and I will bloody well win!”
It wasn’t until I became a mother that my own mortality became frighteningly apparent to me. As a teenager and in my 20s I had an alarming disregard for my own life. An invincible spirit that enabled me to take risks that now make me shudder and question the “what ifs”. And I would like to apologise to my own parents for the things they know about (and the things they don’t!) Sorry mum and dad! Now I understand.
I know that this is all sounding very dramatic for a woman with a lump that is probably nothing and I completely agree. It’s just the way that my sleep deprived over anxious brain functions. And it is how I manage to get a grip of myself and carry on regardless.
Leaving the house this morning was difficult. I didn’t say the word “goodbye” to my children, I just left quietly. My husband came to hug me as I left, most out of character for him. I wonder if he has had some “what if” thoughts too. I will admit that I was holding back some tears as I was waving goodbye to my eldest son who was waving from the window.
Anyway, back to the waiting room where I am greeted by several comforting smiling nurses. The nurses in the NHS never fail to amaze me, they are an outstanding group of people who have looked after me and my family extremely well whenever we have needed them. They are so knowledgeable and caring and I am forever in their debt.
Today, as usual they are extremely busy, but never too busy to answer people’s questions and offer words of reassurance. They see this waiting room all the time day in and day out. Today it is full of all sorts of women, young, middle age, older. Some, like me, have put on a bit of make-up maybe in an effort to look like this doesn’t bother them.
There are husbands, partners and friends here for support. I know that breast cancer affects both men and women, but it would seem that in this waiting room it is the women who were awaiting their fate.
I quite enjoy sitting in waiting rooms people watching. I am sure that they are all watching me too as I tap away on my phone. They must be wondering ‘why on earth is she writing such a long text message?!’
From my seat I can see a very glamorous lady she is wearing a full length sheepskin coat and has long blonde hair, shades on her head, high heels and full make up. Opposite her is a lady wearing a vest top, tracksuit bottoms and trainers. She has tattooed arms, grey hair scraped back in a ponytail, some teeth missing and one crutch supporting her when she walks. Please don’t think that my comments are judgements of these women, they are merely descriptions of what I can see.
As I look around I wonder how many of these people have the dreaded cancer. I watch as the doctors knock on different doors with patient notes to deliver news. Good news? Hopefully. What if it’s not good news? What if they knock on my door with less than good news?
Cancer isn’t fussy. Each and every one of us is equally vulnerable. Young, old, rich, poor and anywhere in between. I think about the recent headlines and the loss of such talented people still relatively young. I would guess that they were able to afford the best medical support that money could buy and yet still it wasn’t enough. Sometimes no amount of money and treatment will save you. I think about many of my friends and family who have had or who are still fighting cancer, so many people.
It is at times like this when I have great admiration for people who have the comfort of faith and religion. The total unwavering belief that there is something beyond this world, a greater being with a plan for us all. An acceptance that what happens to them is determined by someone or something who knows better. Sometimes I wish I had that.
My thoughts are interrupted by a nurse calling my name. I stand and follow her to a small treatment room.
Once in the room the nurse gives me my instructions. “When I leave the room you need to take off all your top half of clothing, including your bra and put on this gown like this.” She puts the gown on herself to show me. She seems to be a very caring lady, around 55 I would guess. I like her immediately! She has a lovely sense of humour.
“I bet you say that all day every day.” I say.
“Yep! And yet I have still found people completely naked when I have returned! I’m only interested in your boobs!”
“Well that’s the first time in a long time someone has said that to me!”
The nurse smiles and leaves me in the room. I do as I am told and I wait nervously for her to return with the doctor. They are with me within minutes. The doctor is yet another friendly and professional employee of the NHS. She explains what she is going to do and then examines me for lumps and bumps.
After several minutes of prodding and squashing and lifting my arms up and down she tells me that she can feel the lump, but that in her opinion it doesn’t feel like anything to worry about. Phew! The next part of the plan is to send a referral for an ultra sound scan and possible biopsy next week to be 100% certain. I am free to go and carry on with my day. I get dressed and do just that.
And with that it was all over. Trip to the breast clinic done (for now). I was in there for less than 20 minutes, brilliant!
After a normality restoring trip to the supermarket to refill my cupboards yet again, I drive home feeling slightly less anxious than was when I set out. I am exhausted from all the worry that I have given myself! When I get home I take time to hug my babies very tightly and feel grateful that today I’m not part of that statistic.
And now, as I wait for my next appointment I will do my best to focus on the “what is” rather than the “what ifs”.